By Marjorie Rice
The holidays, when many gather around family feasts, can be a lean time for others. And it’s a time when many people want to help with donations to local food banks.
It’s estimated nearly 20 percent of Arizonans struggle with hunger. Many of them work, but just one emergency – new tires, car, illness, job loss – can tip the scales toward hunger.
St. Mary’s Food Bank expects to distribute more than 12,000 frozen turkeys with all the trimmings in the three days before Thanksgiving, said Jerry Brown, director of public relations.
That scene will be repeated, on a smaller scale, at food banks and pantries throughout the state, including HonorHealth Desert Mission Food Bank and Arizona Kosher Pantry in North Central Phoenix. They’re two of the 600 Arizona pantries that receive food from St. Mary’s.
Local donors – individuals, grocers, growers, wholesalers and others – also play a major role.
“Because of our local donors, we’re able to distribute 1,100 pounds of produce per day,” said Kris Mendoza, director of Desert Mission Food Bank operations. That helps Desert Mission toward its goal of healthier foods for the needy, said Anne Costa, nutrition outreach lead.
Arizona Kosher Pantry also focuses on healthy food, providing fruits, vegetables, meat and other items at its location on Seventh Street. All are welcome, says Yeheskel Friedman, president and founder.
The need keeps growing.
“We distributed 93 million pounds of food last year; ten years ago that number was about 43 million,” Brown said. “The economy has improved for a lot of people, but for the folks at the bottom of the ladder it hasn’t trickled down.”
Mendoza echoed that sentiment.
“We’ve seen an increase in free monthly boxes for seniors from 204 to 600 per month,” Mendoza said. Desert Mission also distributes free emergency food boxes. Clients also can buy a pantry bag with shelf-stable items like pasta and peanut butter, and meat bags.
Food donations are welcome, especially canned fruits and vegetables, peanut butter, beans, tuna and canned meals like stews that have healthy protein. But cash is even better. Food banks say that $1 helps them provide enough food for up to seven family meals. And the donation may qualify for an Arizona income tax credit.
“Our buying power allows us to get more for each dollar than individual consumers,” Mendoza said.
The holidays are a major season for giving, but hunger is a 365-day-a-year problem, Mendoza adds. When January rolls around, people still need help.
For hours and other information, including how to volunteer or donate, contact Desert Mission Food Bank, 9229 N. Fourth St., 602-870-6062 or visit desertmission.com; Kosher Food Pantry, 7118 N. Seventh St., 602-492-4989 or visit azkosherpantry.org; or St. Mary’s Food Bank, 2831 N. 31st. Ave, 602-242-FOOD (3663) or visit firstfoodbank.org.